31 May 2013

Random readings - from Wildwood by Roger Deakin

Rookery by Amanda Slater (from here)
"Rooks build their untidy-looking nests of twigs in a series of strata on top of the previous year’s structure, as storks do. … They choose live, pliable twigs and must weave them well to stand up to the winter storms, lining the nest with leaves, grass, even some clay, hair or wool. With twigs, as with food, rooks are prone of envy, and not above stealing from one another, as people do from building sites. After five or six years of layering, the structure grows top-heavy and may at last tumble down in a gale, a useful find for a cottager in need for dry kindling. ...

"The parent birds soared off in sallies of flight accompanied by crescendos of cawing, returning with breakfast for the fledglings, who expressed their satisfaction in half-choked high-pitched mewling. Each time they landed, the rooks fanned their tails in greeting: gesture is an important part of their language. A good deal of the rooks’ circling, gliding flight seemed to be nothing other than joyful orisons with no apparent destination in the fields. [They have been seen] flinging themselves into a strong wind and somersaulting wildly upward, then diving straight down again towards the wood like bungee jumpers, checking their swoop just in time with a tilt of a wing to glide far away across the valley towards the church on the far hill. Rooks like to fly high, and sometimes, when they arrive directly over the rookery at a great height, they will fold one wing flat against their body and execute a breathtaking perpendicular dive so fast it is audible, twisting at the last moment to land in the tree. This is called ‘shooting the rook’."

From Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees, by Roger Deakin (2007). He finished the book four months before he died. "Knowing what we know, the forests he celebrates and conjures feel as much a homecoming, or a resting place" said this review.

Old pens

Trying out the old pens, throwing out the dried-up ones, deciding which of the survivors might be useful now - are they waterfast, for instance? I'm delighted to find a couple of fountain pens that just needed a bit of a soak and their ink cartridges replacing.

Sharpening the old pencils, too - the pastel pencils are tricky, with the wood shattering in my pencil sharpener. So I tried sharpening them with a knife, which was fine for the wood but the "lead" kept breaking, which isn't surprising, as pastels themselves break so easily.

30 May 2013

Art I like - "Embroidering between Print and Ink" by Denise Jones

Denise Jones's "Embroidering between Print and Ink" is absolutely my favourite piece in this year's Prism exhibition ("Liminal" is at Mall Galleries till 4pm Saturday). While looking at it, I felt a hidden door in my mind open, just a crack...

The piece - four panels, hung loosely - has simplicity and beauty, a certain randomness and a certain deliberation. Thread is used to best advantage, doing what only thread can do, giving that shimmer that depends entirely on the orientation of individual stitches and the accumulation of many, many stitches.

The origin of the piece is shown in Denise's blog post here.

She says, in the wall label: "The process of embroidery is an abstract, active and thought engaging process, like a particular language, linked in some way to 'making good'. The stitches in this work are worked in the gaps between ink and print, in liminal spaces where symbolic words seem inadequate to convery emotive meanings."

The idea of embroidery as a silent language of 'making good' - mending - develops the idea of stitch as connection. Something to think about while I stitch my own samples.

Poetry Thursday - listen to a poem by Ros Barber

Got a minute? - or is there something that you "should" be doing?

Take a minute to go  here  and listen to "How to Leave the World that Worships Should" by Ros Barber.

Actually you might want to listen twice. Well worth taking the time for it.

It starts: "Let faxes butter-curl on dusty shelves" and ends not in tears, but in waves upon the shore.

(The "illustrated" youtube version (link not given) is less satisfactory than hearing the author read it - the imposed visual images conflict with those the poem evokes, and the voice reading is less clear. Even seeing the poem written out (here for instance) gets in the way, now that I've absorbed it aurally. How was it for you??)

The power of

"Non-sign" - a billboard that focusses attention on the landscape
behind it - is made of small steel rods (from here)
"The power of limited means and focussed attention" - a phrase from a quote read somewhere.

Another way of saying "less is more".

Another reason to keep on with making the studio an uncluttered place - changing it from a place of over-abundant means and unfocussed attention, a place where one feels powerless to choose what to do, out of all the possibilities ... into a clear space with abundant possibilities. Focussing on the important things. Finding out what they are, what is needed, what is superfluous ... letting go of the rest.

It's not even a matter of being super-organised - just of getting the visual clutter, the unspoken demands of Too Much Of Everything, out of the way.

In the short term, two strategies can overcome the cluttered-studio problem:
1. Clear a workspace, put all the clutter out of sight - behind your back - so it doesn't distract you. (Focussed attention.)
2. Put a few materials into a bag and go somewhere else to work - eg, take a sketchbook and pen to the park or a cafe or wherever, and use them. (Limited means.)

29 May 2013

Book exchange (Essex)

If you're near Bishop's Stortford, take the Farnham road
When you get to the end, look around
Yes in this hamlet there are many-gabled thatched houses
and others with interesting brickwork and weathervanes
But its great glory is this redundant phone box, turned into a Book Exchange

Machine stitching on coated canvas

During the studio clearing, a piece of artists canvas came to hand. "Can you machine stitch this" I wondered [the answer should be obvious] and immediately sat down at the machine to do some doodling.
The plain side had some sticky-tape residue so I had the coated side up. Top thread was thinner than the bobbin threads, which came to the surface nicely but not very controlledly -
What I like is that the surface is stiff - though that rather limits its use to small pieces, unless you were quite controlled about rolling it up while stitching. 

The white background might be good for layering up sheers - it would shine through. The small pieces of canvas could be put on stretchers afterwards. (I also found a big box of sheers, and wondered if they'd ever get used -- well, here's a project ... at the moment there's nothing I want to "say" that can be expressed in this way, but these things gestate in the subconscious....)

The stiffness might be useful for the cover of a book, or rather a pamphlet, something floppy with an abstract design perhaps - but what would be inside the book, how would that relate to the cover? 

The usual use of artists canvas is for painting onto - using it for "painting" with thread or fabric is a little subversive. I like that. "Real" canvas is prepared with layers of gesso - hmm, can you stitch through gesso? As soon as my tub of gesso turns up, I'll give it a go.

28 May 2013

Before and during

Big clear-out at the weekend studio is underway - in preparation for the Open Studio next month, and ... because it's high time for a clear-out and dust-down! Those pix were taken on the Sunday and Monday, respectively. The extent of the change is hardly apparent, but much has been done, especially in the rest of the room - taking ornaments off shelves, for example, to make room for showing work.

On Monday we went to get new storage boxes, and they fit nicely onto the bookshelves. As they're plastic and not cardboard, I can see what's in them - and while transferring and sorting the fabrics, I managed to bin some of them - small but definite progress! There's now room on the shelves for more of the new boxes, and with any luck they'll aborb some of the contents of the white unit behind the door and its spillover.

The countertop has taken a few steps backward, but that will be addressed in the next round of sorting, next weekend.  Less is more...

Also needed: decent lighting for the ironing-board area, and a way to store A3 papers.

Liquorice allsorts for zebras?

Polymer clay (Fimo) that's been around for 5 or 6 years feels hard,  but can  still be used - it's crumbly at first but with a bit of rolling (and the heat from your hands) it can be made into long rolls and then long strips, like the black and white "journey lines" -
The beads are for use on the sewing kits and binders keepers. I made a variety of types, to see what works best -
 The colours are a bit garish on their own, so I mixed them to get a range of shades -

They've been baked and are ready to use. They raise the possibility for "composing" the sewing kits - starting with the bead, finding the right ribbon, then choosing the fabrics ... rather than leaving the ribbon and bead as the final elements to be

27 May 2013

Quote for the day - Kitaj on reading and painting

"As everyone knows pictures and books can change the inside of one's head, so I collect them around me in expectation. They excite me like one's other vices do. I come alive in heightened anticipation of pleasure which seeps into the habit of painting. Every good painter I know is a talented reader". R B Kitaj 1994.

26 May 2013

Button boxes

I've sifted through one drawer of buttons in the "treasure chest", pulling out the large ones
and those of particular current interest
all the while thinking about "women who accumulate buttons" and all that this small, unnoticed action means throughout the course of their lives. Buying cards of buttons for a sewing project - keeping the spare ones - cutting buttons off worn-out clothes, to reuse later - finding a lost button - repairing clothes that have lost a button... The thrifty collecting, the careful sewing-on, the care, the tidiness. Much of the morality of daily life is tied up in a button box.

My own button collection rests in various jars and containers, some of these gathered in a big basket stored at the base of the almost-inaccessible bookshelf in the studio. Buttons from recycled shirts and other clothes - the active collection - now fill a large jam jar. I love to tip them out and riffle through, not looking for anything in particular, just enjoying the different sizes and the swirling colours.

From the amount of beige and black "serviceable" buttons in any button box chosen at random, it seems that men's clothes are the ones most in need of repair. Is this because men tend to want to wear their clothes for longer? (And do the liberated young men of today have button boxes?)

I don't know what happened to my mother's button box - though I like to think my sister is looking after it - so the contact with "surrogate buttons" in the treasure chest is important to me, giving a chance to muse on button-relativity and how buttons connect not just women in a family, but in a wider way.

And even more sewing kits

On the left, stitching added to the screenprint, and a velvet ribbon;
on the right, a glitzy fabric with a fancy bead closure

25 May 2013

Making borscht

Onion, leek, celery, carrot - and of course beetroot. The "perfect" recipe - of which this is a variation - is here. A wonderful soup - we have it with full-fat greek-style yogurt, rather than sour cream.

Yet more sewing kits

Another made with "tape  measure" outer fabric; in the other one, fabric from Australia is used to bind the pockets as well as on the outside, and it closes with a bead from Kenya.

From magazines

Letting go of magazines - or rather, not letting go - is one of my besetting sins. This morning, as it's not raining, I'm putting a mere four on the front wall, with a "please take" sign (it's a start!). First I flipped through them and found one item to "save" from each.
Cellular structure of wood - the kind of thing I loved drawing in high-school biology
David Nash's cutting and shaping of wood is astonishing
There's something about this charred forest in Chile that grabs me
And some facts about coffee, from an article about the threat to coffee production - and especially to wild trees - brought by climate change:

"...about 100 million people around the world depend on coffee for their livelihoods. Approximately 70 countries produce coffee, from the Americas to Australasia and the Pacific. It seems hard to believe, but coffee is the second most traded commodity after oil, and the world's most important agricultural commodity. In 2009, when some 93.4 million (60kg) bags were shipped,  coffee accounted for xports worth an estimaged US$15.4 billion." (Kew magazine, spring 2013)

What do the numbers mean?

Do you keep an eye on your stats in Blogger?

How does this, from the Posts page (views of separate posts) -
The left column is Comments and the middle column is referred to as "View count"

relate to this, from the Overview page (pageviews during the past month)? -

Undoubtedly the pageviews, which are much higher than the number of views of posts, as far as I can see, include bots and spammers and suchlike - what can we believe about traffic to a site?

Perhaps the View Count is people who go directly to a particular post, rather than landing on the blog itself and being able to scroll down to see many posts?

I haven't been able to find clarification - have been using the wrong search terms, no doubt!

24 May 2013

Art I like - "Shell"

"Shell" was made for Pallant House in 2007 by Susie MacMurray, and consists of mussel shells lined with, or perhaps it's more accurate to say emitting, red velvet. It was shown on the landing walls of the grand stair, and I wish I could have seen it then -
image from here
What remains is a small panel inside a cupboard, the door half open, the inside gloomy - and beside it, the poem written by Ros Barber -

Getting out

After an excursion to Cambridge earlier this week to visit the anthropology museum with its many wonderful objects, yesterday's trip was to Chichester. By train of course - past Arundel with its castle -
and once in town, going first to Pallant House for the exhibitions by Kitaj (finishes 16 June) -
The captions were really helpful - so much going on in (and behind) the paintings
Drawn onto panels covered with a sort of gesso - not just lines added, but surface scraped away
Many interesting works in the main collection, including Hearthstone by Andy Goldsworthy -
The weathering on the chalk boulder  was scraped away with a flint
In a cupboard, the mussel shells and velvet, remnants of Susie MacMurray's 2007 installation "Shell" -
After a nice lunch in the restaurant - not in the courtyard alas, because of the intermittent showers - 
a walk through the charming streets to the cathedral -
Daisies furled and unfurled line the path
Inside the north tower
a look round, and home again ... on the slow train.

23 May 2013

Poetry Thursday - One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

"One Art" - a "tree-assisted readymade" by Anya Gallaccio (read about it here)
One Art
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster. 
(via www.poetryfoundation.org. If you're thinking you've read this poem on this blog already, you're right (and I envy your astute memory!) - this is one of my favourite poems, and it's my birthday, so please indulge me in the repetition.)

Elizabeth Bishop published only 101 poems during her lifetime. "Her verse is marked by precise descriptions of the physical world and an air of poetic serenity, but her underlying themes include the struggle to find a sense of belonging, and the human experiences of grief and longing. ... Bishop worked as a painter as well as a poet, and her verse, like visual art, is known for its ability to capture significant scenes. Though she was independently wealthy and thus enjoyed a life of some privilege, much of her poetry celebrates working-class settings."  

22 May 2013

Drawing class, week 4 - visual rhythm

My view of this week's still life.  Which area to choose?
(Keep your eye on the duck...)
The demo was done on my piece of paper - maybe
because last week I didn't have any rubbed out marks?
Also I rubbed out the first area I chose
After check of relationships with the help of the handle of the paintbrush,
the objects at top  right moved further right, which also
made for a better visual rhythm
A bit of doodling in an "empty" part of the paper
while waiting to move on to the next step
More "looking" at an object outside "my" area
(then rubbed out, of course)
The demo of the next step - adding ink washes to the
darkest areas
After four or five washes, each gradually darker, the drawing
achieves a different quality
Although the effort isn't visible in the drawing - despite all the scrubbed-out lines! - I worked hard at getting objects in the right relation to each other. It's the angles of things that defeat me; ah well, practice, practice, practice - it's all in the looking, especially in the looking again.